venerdì 23 dicembre 2011

Tempus fugit

That morning, Marco found it harder than usual to wake up.
For a few moments, he thought the alarm’s protracted beeping was the epilogue of a bad dream. But it was no dream. The night had passed in a twinkling, and on such short nights dreams rarely occur. 
He got up and took a cold shower. He dressed and had breakfast looking out the window facing the Tiber. On that winter Sunday, Rome looked more beautiful than ever. While dawn spread gently over the still sleeping city, he prepared to go out.
An exciting day loomed ahead: the beautiful girl from Bucharest whom he had met yesterday in Villa Borghese had asked him to meet her in front of her hotel. The night before, they’d had dinner in Trastevere, but when she said goodbye, he had not dared to accompany her back to that hotel. He was a disaster with women. Luckily, they always lent him a helping hand: once home, he had found a card in his pocket, written in block capitals:


So this morning he ran from his house, happy at the prospect of seeing her again. And when he got home that evening, he was exhausted.
What a fantastic day they’d had. And how beautiful was Tanya! Her kisses played on his lips like warm wind and ocean spray, her sweet, tender ankles seemed made for his hands, and her big green eyes stopped his breath.
They had made love all day.
Before falling asleep, Marco regretted the speed, like a fast-forwarded movie, with which the day had passed. When you feel that good, he thought, time runs from you. What a shame. He longed to spend days and days in bed with this girl.
Early the next morning, Marco went looking for her, but apparently she had left. Oddly, no one at her hotel remembered the girl who had occupied room 777 until the day before. How could such a beauty pass unnoticed? 
It’s a different guy at the reception desk this morning, he thought.
“I started this morning, sir” the clerk said apologetically.
A shiver bolted down Marco’s spine. Had he dreamt everything? Or, worse, had he simply fantasized his time with Tanya? God, no! His memories were vivid, intense, warm. He could still smell her fragrant amber skin, but a full day had slipped by, or two, or maybe.  . . three?
On Wednesday evening, Marco had dinner with friends, but remained stunned and confused, still thinking of Tanya. Why had she left? She hadn’t told him goodbye, she had not even mentioned that she was leaving.
The next morning, feeling more and more lost, he asked himself, What day is this? It took some time to answer his question: it was Friday, but Friday of the following week. Eleven days had passed?
No, it was impossible. Although he tried, Marco could not remember what had happened during that time; a few traces lingered in his memory, but only vague and fragmented ones: several hours in his office, a football game, a hospital visit to his sister. Sadly, these recollections were insufficient to fill the whole timeframe. Damn, eleven days! What else had he done during that time?
My days all resemble one another, he thought depressingly.
The following night, suddenly feeling very hot, he awoke. Weird temperature for February, he thought groggily and took the occasion to visit the toilet. 
The next morning he switched on his TV to watch the news and sat at the table for breakfast. It was still miserably hot. The news announcer wished him a good morning and reported that it was May sixteenth.
Marco sprang up, eyes wide, spine shivering, hands a-tremble; his voice, when he tried to shout, gurgled in his throat. Surely, he’d gone to sleep on a cold winter’s night. Even if he’d nearly lost count, it still had to be the twelfth of February!
What the hell was going on?
He called his best friend, Andrea, and asked for his psychotherapist’s telephone number. Then, when he called this doctor, day turned to night.
He arrived at the psychotherapist’s office in late August, the streets sticky from the intense heat, but when he came back out, leaves were falling from the trees and a soft carpet of yellow already blanketed the asphalt. Was he going crazy?
Later, his therapist speculated about his symptoms, but none of his explanations was pleasant. He prescribed a sleeping medication and made Marco an appointment for the following week.
Marco met this obligation, but when he returned, the weather had turned cold again, and Christmas lights and ornaments decorated all the streets and trees. Even worse, the doctor told him that they had already reached the fourth month of his psychotherapy, although they had made little progress—indeed, almost none.
That I already know, Marco thought.
He bought a gift for Tanya. On their one day together he had gotten her address, and he sent his present to her in Romania.
After a few days, he received a letter from her. In it, she thanked him, saying that she remembered him well, even though so much time had passed. She also told him that it was funny to have received a Christmas gift near Easter; it could be a fault of the Italian postal service or possibly that of her own country.  
In his own sense of things, Marco had loved Tanya only a few days past, but, in fact, more than a year had gone by.
He was astonished.
Sometimes he woke wearing a noticeable beard; others, with different hair cuts. He often found himself in places or cities that he didn’t remember visiting; he discovered that his brother had immigrated to the United States and that he had somehow missed his mother’s second marriage . . . to a man who had become his beloved stepfather. 
Few alternatives existed: either he was crazy, or the whole universe was mocking him. Because even the latter hypothesis signaled a severe mental disorder, the former was the one to choose.
In May, then, Marco was hospitalized in a mental care unit, where he learned that he had been an in-patient for the past three years. But July came only two days later, and soon after, although God knew when, the hospital discharged him.
The following thirty days felt to him like hell on earth.
Under his gaze, the flow of time kept accelerating. He stared helplessly at his body growing older and older. His clothes changed from minute to minute. Everything moved at impossible speed.
Marco was now twenty-five years older than when he had met Tanya.  
One day, now mature but still very charming, she came to Rome for a weeklong visit. It was the only happy time that Marco had, but it lasted for only minutes, maybe, as far as he could perceive, just an hour. 
He was next to exploding.
Years slipped by, disguised as days, and science kept advancing. By this time an old man, he opened the phone directory and stumbled upon an ad that drew his attention:

Professor Andreas Kronos Zeit
Time-hole mending
Service delivered to your door

As soon as he closed the directory, his doorbell rang, but six hours had actually passed. A small, bald man with a snub nose stood in his door, staring at him with his tiny black pupils magnified by the thick lenses of his glasses.
“Uhm. You must be the one who called me,” he said, showing excellent intuition.  He entered and set down his heavy briefcase.
He explained that intense emotions can cause sudden leaks in the flow of time. In Marco’s case, they had no doubt happened as a consequence of his passionate youthful adventure with Tanya. “You are following a straight line that shears off out all the curves in your life; you are able to live only at the points of intersection, but you miss all the intermediate segments.”
The professor was perfectly clear: if Marco continued in that way, he would soon fall into the sea of time and plunge into the last days of his life.
Marco pleaded desperately for help.
Professor Kronos Zeit said there were two ways to manage his case, one simple and the other vastly more complicated. 
The simple way would be to restore time’s normal flow, so that life could resume its usual speed, but only since the moment of the intervention. That way, he would lose all his past life forever, but the intervention’s efficacy was guaranteed.
The more complicated way would transport Marco back to his youth, to exactly the day before he made love to the girl who had changed his life. By so doing, all his life would be restored, but he absolutely must, at all cost, avoid meeting her at the hotel and making love to her. It was hard for Marco to decide what to do. Tanya represented the best part of his life, but because he wished to reclaim his youth, he opted for the more complicated way.
Professor Kronos Zeit recorded all the details that Marco could recall about his youthful relationship with the girl: her name, the name of the hotel, the day and the hour they met. Then he made an appointment with him to start the process.
“I’ll see you in my office next year” the doctor said.
“What?” Marco yelled. “Why must I wait so long?”
“Don’t worry. From your perspective, it’s just going to be six or seven minutes.”
“Uh, right. Thank you, professor.”
A year later, everything was ready. Marco lay on the couch, closed his eyes and began to hope. Because, once he returned to his youth, he would lose all memory of what had since happened to him, Professor Kronos Zeit put a useful card in his pocket:


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